My son came down with strep throat during the last week of his last year of preschool. His last week coincided with Memorial Day, so he only had 3.5 days that week (Friday was a half day). I panicked; I had already scheduled to work from home for the entire following week. We had a gap in child-care, his school-year ended a full week before summer camp was supposed to start. I’m lucky to have a flexible and trusting employer who allows me to work from home when emergencies such as this pop up.
One day during the week, in which he was feeling horrible, he turned to me and said, “Mama, I wish I could be sick all the time so I could be home with you.” Now my initial, internal, extremely sarcastic thought was, “You ARE sick all the time, kid!” But after a moment, the weight of his words came crashing down on my heart like a ton of bricks. Did my sweet son just say that he’d willingly suffer through the pain of strep throat, daily, so he could spend his days at home with me? Record scratch. Que the suffocating working-mom-guilt. Suffocating.
I went back to work full-time when my son was 12 weeks old. He was at an in-home daycare with a very trusted friend for 3 years, then moved to full-day preschool. He’s never been home with me. He’s a pretty easy-going kid so at times it can be difficult to remember that he has his own opinions on things. He’s always willingly gone to daycare or school and when he did put up a fuss it was very minor such as, “I don’t want to…OK…”. The first few months of his life, okay let’s say the first few years, I cried on my way to work after dropping him off, every morning. Every. Morning. As he got older and I saw him forming friendships with the other kids in my friends’ care, these feelings of guilt subsided and I was comforted in the fact that he was having fun and making buddies…then he began to semi-understand the world around him. He began to realize that some parents are home and available to their children every day, all day.
“Why do you work so much, Mama?”
His first year of pre-school was in a public school that was on the other side of the city from our home. The commute there and back was hellish, involving east-end traffic and tunnels back to the south end of the city, not to mention that I work in a very southern suburb. The pre-school ran the same hours as the older grades. He was in school from 9:15 to 3:15, then spent about 1.5 hours in “after school care.” As I mentioned earlier, my son is easy going so you can imagine my dismay at finding him in a crying, nervous puddle when I picked him up from after-care the first few days. Luckily my parents were able to help me out a few days a week by picking him up at regular dismissal time. He only attended after-care 2 times a week thanks to them. But he still hated it and I can understand why. He wanted to come home. He wanted to veg out and play with his toys and hug our dogs, have a snack, and spend time with us. But that just wasn’t and still isn’t possible. I remember the great sense of relief as a child when I would walk through the door of my parents’ home after a long, often emotional, day of school.
That summer he was relieved to return to my friend’s care where he’d get to spend his summer relaxing with his friends and swimming in her pool. Well, he was relieved for about two weeks until the novelty wore off and he vocally and frequently expressed how desperately he wanted to be home with me.
As the summer ended, after some emotional soul-searching, we decided to transfer him to a private Montessori school that was much closer to our home and would cut down on the brutal commute. He loved this new school and actually looked forward to the short time he was there for the extended day program, after school was finished. Ah, serenity at last. Now that he was more comfortable he’d stop asking about being home with me, right? Wrong. As the I mentioned above, he came down with Strep Throat during his last week of school and the questions about being home and summer vacation began. And that brings us to the present day.
Back in March I signed him up for a community summer camp that is just one community over from ours; total bonus that I literally pass it every day on my way to work. I couldn’t believe the convenience and everything I’d heard and read about the program was great. Not only was it fun but it was also somewhat educational. Each week had a theme and they’d be doing activities and having experiences that corresponded to that theme. When the time came for camp to begin he was so excited to go, the weekend before he started my husband and I spent time talking about our experiences at summer programs and how he’d make friends and have such a great time. And much to our pleasure, we were right. He has had a lot of fun and made some really nice friends.
It still hasn’t stopped him from asking if he can stay home with me. It still hasn’t prevented me from being mostly consumed by guilt.
My son will never have the summers I had growing up. Sitting on the front porch eating popsicles and listening to my boombox (yes, I’m an old) – he doesn’t get to experience that beautiful feeling of not having to go anywhere or really do anything. Staying up late and chasing lightning bugs – he must get to bed for camp! I see pictures on Facebook of wonderful and spontaneous summer adventures that other families are having and I’m filled with envy. I’d love to be splashing in a stream on a Wednesday morning with my son rather than sitting at a desk in my climate-controlled office. This summer has been particularly hard because this is the summer before kindergarten. I feel like he will never have a true summer vacation, at least not in the way I think of summer vacation. He’ll never really have a break.
Then, I begin to think of all the lovely adventures OUR family has had this summer.
We’ve gone to parks, pools, Kennywood, and the zoo. We took him camping for the first time. We’ve taken hikes to a waterfall. We played t-ball. Ice cream, we’ve gotten lots and lots of ice cream. We’re about to travel to see our out-of-town family for the next week. These things may not be spontaneous weekday adventures, but I’d say they make for a pretty great summer. I’m reminded when I pick him up from camp and he’s high-fiving everyone in the room how different his days would be if he were, in fact, home with me. It gives me great joy to listen to the exciting things he’s done and learned at camp this summer. I feel good that he will have a week-long break before starting kindergarten and that week will be spent with his cousins and family who he doesn’t get to see nearly enough. I felt so sad and sorry when I started writing this piece. I started it the fateful week of the strep throat, and I’m so glad I waited until now, when summer is drawing to a close, to finish it. My perspective has totally changed. He may not have had the same kind of summer vacation I had as a kid but it still seems like a pretty great one to me.